Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

10.1.13

Proverb of the week: fine words butter no parsnips.

Just when I had almost despaired of the future of the English language, I found the above expression in one of the millions of political blogs that choke the internet like river weeds in the Murray; their endless barb-filled comments threads stretching out infinitely like a vicious thorny blackberry vine growing over an abandoned 1930s Dandenong Ranges house. (Yes, I'm practising for the Bulwer-Lytton awards.)

Fine words butter no parsnips. Five words that might first have been uttered in the eleventh, fourteenth or sixteenth century. Who knows or cares? While Twitter is stale after a couple of years, a fine proverb thinks nothing of half a millennium. And will the word hashtag even make it to the year 2525? If man is still alive ... (Zager & Evans, 1969).

Fine words butter no parsnips. Why? Because buttered parsnips were what you had before potatoes came along. There are plenty of ways to butter parsnips, from simply mashed with butter to baked with butter and honey, but the following was my favourite parsnip recipe for a long time, even though the white root vegetable* plays only a backing role.

Baked fish with root vegetables.

Peel and slice a parsnip and a carrot into discs and place them in a lidded baking dish along with an onion chopped into segments. Barely cover with white wine and water, about 75/25, and place in a moderate oven. Parsnip has a strong, sweet taste and, cooked in the wine, produces a delicious aroma.

When the vegetables are almost done, remove dish from oven and add the fish. Use a fillet of non-oily fish that flakes easily for best effect; whatever is fresh and inexpensive at the market. Simply lay it over the top of the vegetables. Now for the butter: place a large puck of butter and a light shower of white pepper on the fish and put the dish back in the oven. As it melts, the butter will baste the fish, which will also be infused by the aromas of the vegetables. Ready when the fish is cooked through.

Lift the fish and vegetables out of the fluid, lay on serving plates and serve with florets of broccoli and mashed potato. The fluid in the baking dish can be reduced with a little cream for a richer dish.

Drink: very cold sauvignon blanc.

*My favourite parsnip anecdote: when I once placed some parsnips on the weigher at the check-out, the attendant said brightly: "Oh, white carrots! How long have we had those in stock?"

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